Published: December 14th 2007December 12th 2007
The pink flags are the participants
The pace in Hampton was a tad more frantic than Deltaville. The boats for the 1500 were arriving every day and each no doubt had many things to accomplish. We arranged for our inspection for Monday morning as we wanted as much time as possible to rectify any shortcomings. Rick showed up bright and early the next morning and we went through the list point by point. Well it seems the frantic activity over the past 7 weeks paid off because except for a few minor points, we were ready to go. One thing he didn’t check though and I guess he has to accept some things as presented, was that our newly installed SSB radio was not set up to send on the required frequency for the rally. To make it work, the radio still required what I referred to as a vasectomy, the snipping of one small diode. Larry the radio guy showed up later and took it to his shop to perform the necessary procedure. It was reinstalled the next day and as much as we could, determined it was working properly. We should have tested it away from the dock but with Hurricane Noel, now just offshore,
Bunch of old people in class
starting to make things unpleasant, we stayed put.
Doug and Brian, our additional crew members from Vancouver, arrived and we finished the necessary to-do list items, provision and stow and otherwise organize the boat. The days were filled with seminars some required and some optional, a myriad of tasks and running to stores. The best seminar was presented by Barefoot Davis on fishing. He started by saying, “on an ocean passage, fishing is not a sport; you are killing fish to eat.” Basically you approach it so that fish have no chance if properly hooked…use 200 lb test line! …and hope you don’t catch something bigger than you are. Last year one boat landed a 130 lb tuna. The thought of that potential kind of scared me. Killing the fish was the most interesting part. Just before you land it, take a big swig of your favourite rum and when you are holding the fish on the swim grid or cockpit floor, spray the mouthful of rum into the gills. Even a large fish will succumb in about 30 seconds. If you don’t land the fish right away, you may be required to take another mouthful of rum until
Brian checking the chute
your crew members can get the reluctant wiggly creature aboard.
Well the preparations and seminars continued and finally late on Saturday afternoon we sat in on the final weather briefing. As predicted, Hurricane Noel was now past and well on its way to Nova Scotia. A few hours earlier the winds had finally let up, the clouds cleared and the temperature started to rise. We were set for the scheduled start Sunday (tomorrow) at noon. In fact not only had the winds let up, but the prediction was for light winds at the start and for the next several days. Well that caused concern as last year’s rally had light winds making fuel management a major problem. Many crews scrambled to buy extra diesel jerry cans to ensure sufficient fuel to power through calms. We ended up with six cans of diesel strapped to our rails and with our tankage gave us about 65 gallons; enough to motor about 1/3 of the way. One boat was reported to be carrying about 600 gallons; probably enough to get to Venezuela. But for us, if the winds were persistently light, we would be out there for quite a while.
Temperature up 10 degrees..its magic
departure day, was bright, warm and calm. After picking up the last of the food, dropping off the car and sending a couple of emails, we entertained our neighbours on the dock with sounds of cows and cowboys followed by the William Tell Overture (a Desolation Sound tradition). About 10 in the morning we undid our lines and off we went out to the Bermuda Triangle and over the edge of the earth.
We motored to the start line and at noon the gun fired… in fact a bit before noon as the committee used a bit of licence to ensure no one was over the line early. We set our cruising spinnaker and compared with the other boats that were sailing, moved quite well. But we were soon left behind by those who kept their motors on. See this is a rally, not a race. Motors are allowed and in fact encouraged so that everyone can arrive at BVI as quickly as possible. However, because there is a racing component to the rally, motor usage for propulsion is added to your finish time so there is a consequence. Well after a couple of hours the wind completely died
Brian preparing Bannock
or whatever breeze there was was directly against us. We too started our engine and by sunset we were in the Atlantic a bit south-east of Virginia Beach heading parallel with the shore for our planned turn to cross the Gulf Stream at Cape Hatteras.
We organized our watches and chores so that everyone participated on an equal basis. Generally there was only one person on watch at a time and each watch was 2 hours long so that you had 6 hours off out of every 8. This is a cruise and we wanted to minimize fatigue to try to maximize comfort (such as 4 people can have in a 40 foot boat lurching, rolling and covered with salt spray). No one was allowed to leave the cockpit for the deck unless someone else was up. We always wore inflatable vests and were tethered to safety lines at night. Dinner was a full crew function each evening before dark. While we took turns preparing meals and cleaning, the galley was Ace’s and we were not allowed to forage. You slept when you could and that was sometimes a challenge when the boat became very lively.
Ace on the Helm
Taking over from George
that evening we had the first of the twice daily radio checks. About five minutes before the scheduled time I tuned to the predetermined frequency expecting to hear the usual banter but…static…that’s all we heard…static. When 7 o’clock arrived, we could hear nothing intelligible. What was wrong? Had I been too confident, cavalier, foolish by not fully testing the radio after the modification? The feeling I had, the despair, the frustration; two months of frantic preparations and a critical component, no, an essential component wasn’t working. We tried the other rally frequencies and still couldn’t hear anything. We tried other non-rally frequencies and some worked but very poorly. If we couldn’t get the radio to work, especially frequencies to hear weather reports, we could not proceed but would have to turn around. We called our SSB guru Ron in Vancouver; we were still within cell phone range. He felt the radio may have harmonic interference (you musicians understand this) at the required frequencies and suggested a few remedies. We made a couple of adjustments but couldn’t really do much until the next morning radio check. We considered where to put into shore in case it didn’t work and continued to
proceed towards Hatteras, but with a lump in my stomach. I didn’t sleep well that night. Oh, the wind filled in at about 9 and we had a beautiful sail down the Virginia / North Carolina coast. The stars were bright, the seas quite flat, a great introduction to the event.
The next morning, a couple of minutes before the check-in was to begin, Doug dialed into the required frequency and in his best “Ham” voice asked if the frequency was in use. Loud and clear came the response; it was about to be used for the Caribbean 1500 safety net. The relief I felt was indescribable…we were on our way! In retrospect and after considerable discussion, we concluded that the huge military presence in Norfolk caused so much interference that small, low powered radios were rendered rather useless.
Later that morning, at 1040 to be rather exact, there was a distinct line in the water ahead of us. Not unlike the tide lines we see in Vancouver, this was the Gulf Stream, bright and blue; a wonderment to see a river in the middle of the ocean. The water temperature quickly jumped 10 deg to 77 Fahrenheit;
Ace coming on watch
the air temperature also went up and about a half hour later we were in the company of a half dozen dolphins. This was just what we imagined. Beautiful! A light breeze, long placid ocean swells, spinnaker, cruising along at 6 knots…what could be better!
Dinner that night was with an enthused crew still reaching into the blue under spinnaker. In the distance though, were clouds and they appeared a bit ominous. The wind began to build and by midnight we had two reefs with 25 knots of wind. A trend was starting, clouds and squalls. During the day on Tuesday we changed our headsail to our #3 and observed more build-up of clouds. By dinner they had become heavier with considerable lightning. Before dark we reefed again down to reef #3. The night brought a lot of rain and lightning in squalls which were very hard to see until they were on you. The nights were long and tedious. We decided to double up our watches so there were always 2 on deck in the heavier weather. By morning, however, the winds had let up. Funny how the winds are lighter during daylight. We flew the spinnaker again
Fixing the main
Brian & Doug installing new main slugs
and for a few hours tried some fishing. You remember from above, this is not a sport. Well it’s a good thing that we had lots of food because no fish were interested in us. Hopefully future attempts will be better.
By dinner the clouds had built again and as predicted in the weather forecast there were a lot of squalls associated with a low pressure trough. Wednesday night / Thursday morning were the most exciting of the trip and the most tiring. By 5 in the morning we needed a rest and so we hove to until sun-up. With the light in the morning we doused the main and continued on under reefed jib alone. In the process of lowering the main Brian noted 4 missing slugs (pieces of hardware that hold the sail to the mast). We were very lucky not to have torn our main in its weakened condition. The seas had built considerably overnight and with only a portion of our jib out, we were surfing around 8 knots, sometimes hitting 10 and once 12. As soon as we were able, Doug & Brian replaced the missing slugs so we were back in business. As
Thankfully the weather cooperated with our festivity
the day progressed the winds dropped and by dinner the winds were light and variable causing us to succumb to the iron spinnaker for a few hours. That night was clear and the stars were magnificent. Brian pointed out a new sight in the night sky, Holmes Comet. Holmes is a dying comet and is currently the largest body in the universe. It looked like a cotton ball and is still in the vicinity of Cassiopeia although much fainter now.
Friday morning saw us in light winds trying to coax the boat along with the spinnaker. It was a pleasant but rather slow sail; probably a good change from the previous few days. In this more relaxed atmosphere, we decided to again try our luck deep sea fishing. Out went the line, about 200 feet of 200 lb test, the lure skipping along the surf. An hour or so later …a strike! Panic ensued. Not a fisher among us! Ok pull it in, how hard can it be on 200 lb test. Hand over hand…it’s a mahi mahi! Get a harness on and get down on the swim grid. Get the rum ready. I knelt on the swim grid
A happy helmsman
Doug steering close to finish
and we pulled the now seemingly dormant fish the last 20 feet. Nothing doing the fish thought. Flip flip, flip flip…gone! The disappointment was plain. Snits all around! Dinner later of spartan tacos……… just exacerbated frustration.
Another starry night, again with the motor running for part of the time. This night we saw some of our competitors. It’s easier to see lights at night than to pick out the faint shape of a sail in daylight. During the next day, Saturday, we continued to motor as the winds continued to be fickle. We filled our fuel tank from the spare jerry cans on deck and determined from the amount left could now motor most of the rest of the way to BVI if we had too. We had done a good job managing fuel despite the fact that we have needed to charge our batteries four or five hours a day. George is a power hog and has been steering the boat almost continuously since the start, and, as it is dark for almost 13 hours a day, our running and cabin lights have also been using a fair amount of amps.
The wind remained light and by
10:00 the motor came on. We tried our luck at fishing again and this time we were not to be denied. Just after noon a Spanish mackerel had its last attempted meal on our irresistible lure. Well maybe it was just better hooked but we wasted no time hauling in this delectable morsel, no there was no danger of this midget breaking our line. On board, gills sprayed with rum, filleted, dinner for tonight was set.
That afternoon the glassy smooth ocean became irresistible in the oppressive sun and one splash was quickly followed by two more (Ace thought better of having all four of us in at the same time); swimming 500 miles from shore in 7,000 feet of water just seemed to be the right thing to do. Sooo refreshing. But back to the boat…we are “racing”. Saturday night was another incredible evening of star gazing, in fact maybe a little too incredible. While we were nonchalantly motoring along transfixed by the heavens, our competitors were squeezing all they could out of their sails. By morning, the “race” for us was over. Prior to Saturday night we had the fewest hours of motoring in the fleet and
Champagne on the dock
Made it...happy to be here
while we didn’t really get too far ahead in hours, the extra hours added and the related penalty couldn’t be overcome. Well so what! The magical night was worth it; music under the stars. Stan Rogers, REM and Leonard Cohen who said it all with “All men are sailors waiting for the sea to free them”. And oh for a little Southern Cross.
Sunday morning dawned bright and promising. The chute was up and by noon we had landed our first mahi-mahi. We chased a boat on the horizon and think we were catching up. It was a glorious day. However the weather report that morning said this delightful panacea wasn’t going to last. Shortly after our dinner we put the first reef in the main; by midnight the second and at two in the morning we reefed the jib. The seas were on the beam and uncomfortable but we were making good time between 7 and 8 knots. The squalls have returned and all night long we watched lightning all around us and dealt with the wind shifts and sudden gusts. The unsettled weather continued through Monday but at least it was warm. In fact it was warm
Why we are here
enough for Brian to have a shampoo and shower in the cockpit during one torrent. The first boats were now finishing; we still had a day to go but we could sense the end was close. The squalls continued and unfortunately the wind also clocked to the east, our primary direction. But we were able to trim the sails tight enough to hold our course for Tortola. About 1:30 Tuesday afternoon, there it was, land ho as they say; Tortola was fine on the Starboard bow, some 30 miles away. At 1 minute after 8 that evening we crossed the finish line. It was a real sense of accomplishment thanks to a great crew effort.
The ten days had gone by rather quickly. Although the nights were longer than we would have wanted in some instances, some were incredibly magical. Stars, billions & billions, where are you Carl Sagan?, Holmes Comet. Snacks of dried fruit, granola bars and if I never have another Power Bar I won’t miss it. Sunsets, sunrises! Naps by the guys during Ace’s watch prepared the boys for their daily “Sundowners” around 5. The tremendous food, thanks Ace! Some tastes were unusual…Brian with his raw oats. Some stomachs were unbelievable… reading in the v-berth using a flashlight while the bow was rising and plunging 6 feet! How? Flat out surfing in the black of night, George driving, the rest of us just holding on.
We came through the trip quite unscathed as the list of problems on many boats would have caused concern and hardship. Cambio lost her life raft in a squall; Joy For All destroyed her main; Aphrodite tore her main, lost her engine and generator; New Wave had contaminated fuel, therefore no engine and a torn jenny; Starpath had no engine or main; Stepping Stone had no refrigeration; Bella Mae’s alternator didn’t work properly; Berkeley East’s engine didn’t work. But I guess, all in all, the trip was fairly normal considering the number of boats. Also it was very interesting to see that in only a few miles the weather was quite different. We sailed most of the way and at times in quite exciting conditions. Boats that finished as little as 12 hours ahead of us sailed considerably less, motored more, the crews never wore rain gear and generally had a rather benign passages.
But here we are in BVI. It seems a bit surreal! Thank you Brian & Doug. Your company was great and your contribution immeasurable.
Peter & Ace